With 39 seconds left in Thursday’s first-round American Athletic Conference tournament game, Temple had a chance to take a two-possession lead against Tulane, and it had its best free-throw shooter at the line.
But junior guard Shizz Alston Jr., who entered play shooting 94.1 percent from the free-throw line, split his two attempts. Redshirt-senior swingman Cameron Reynolds hit a 3-pointer on the other end for Tulane’s fifth straight field goal to cut his team’s deficit to one point.
The Green Wave (14-17, 5-13 The American) couldn’t make a sixth straight basket. Freshman guard Caleb Daniels’ potential game-tying 3-pointer missed with less than 10 seconds left, and Tulane lost, 82-77, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
Temple, the seventh seed in the conference tournament, advances to face No. 2 Wichita State on Friday at 7 p.m. The Owls and Shockers split their regular-season matchups. Each team won at home.
“It’s good to get a win in the first game, especially against a team like that,” senior forward Obi Enechionyia told reporters after the game. “So confidence-wise I think it’s going to help us going into tomorrow. Obviously facing a great team, but it’s one that we have beat before, so I don’t think confidence will be an issue.”
Temple (17-10, 8-10 The American) won in overtime on Feb. 1 at the Liacouras Center, and Wichita State, which is the No. 11 team in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, won 93-86 on Feb. 15.
Wichita State had a first-round bye in the tournament by virtue of being one of the top four seeds. The Shockers are projected as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
Freshman forward J.P. Moorman II scored 10 points off the bench against Tulane. He left the game with 1:01 remaining with left knee pain. Moorman hyperextended his knee and will see if he can play against Wichita State after shootaround on Friday, he told Nick Menta of OwlScoop.com.
Before Tuesday’s practice, Temple’s players and coach Fran Dunphy talked about making an effort to get to the free-throw line more frequently. The Owls backed it up on Thursday with a 23-for-29 mark at the free-throw line.
Temple’s 29 free-throw attempts mark a season-high, surpassing its 26 attempts in a win against East Carolina on Feb. 7 at the Liacouras Center.
“I thought Tulane gave us a great effort,” Dunphy said in a postgame press conference. “I thought maybe the difference in the game was the amount of times we got to the foul line. I thought we drove it, drove it well. We pressed the issue a little bit. We talked about it, but obviously it opened up for us a little bit tonight.”
Enechionyia led Temple with 19 points. He made all four of his free-throw attempts and shot 5-for-7 from 3-point range.
Redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown scored six of his 15 points at the free-throw line. He also had six rebounds to tie for the team lead with freshman guard Nate Pierre-Louis.
Temple took its first lead with 4:17 left in the first half and never trailed after that point.
Alston made a 2-point shot with less than five seconds left in the first half to give Temple a four-point halftime lead. Temple continued its momentum by scoring 10 straight points to open the second half.
Alston made one of his two 3-pointers during the run. He finished with 17 points.
Temple took its largest lead of 13 points with 15:48 left in the second half. Tulane chipped away, making it 56-50 on a Reynolds jumper, but the Owls retook a 13-point lead when they went on a seven-point run to make it 63-50.
Tulane junior guard Melvin Frazier, who won the conference’s Most Improved Player award, scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half. Reynolds led all scorers with 22 points.
Temple held a 14-point halftime lead the last time it faced Wichita State. The Shockers shot 18-for-27 from the field in the second half. They scored 36 points in the paint, while Temple scored eight.
They also had 16 more second-chance points than the Owls. Temple shot a season-high 55.2 percent from 3-point range in its loss in Kansas.
If Temple beats Wichita State, it will advance to the semifinal round on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Since joining The American, the Owls have made two semifinal appearances. They lost to nationally ranked Southern Methodist on March 14, 2015, and lost to UConn on March 12, 2016.